Is Yelling at Kids Ever OK?

No parent is perfect, and it’s important to realize that. However, our actions as parents do have lasting implications to our children. Yelling at kids is a common occurrence, and yet the effects this has on our children continue throughout their lifetime.

Data posted in the Journal of Marriage and Family showed that 74 percent of parents admitted to yelling or screaming, with one in four indicating they had sworn or cursed at the child. A study released by the National Institute of Health revealed a direct correlation between mothers’ yelling and children’s aggression. Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Michigan published in the journal Child Development findings concluding that harsh verbal discipline from parents contributes to social and behavioral problems in adolescents.

Clearly, studies and experts seem to indicate that yelling at kids can have serious consequences. As parents, we are likely creating a cycle of perpetual screaming and verbal aggression when yelling is commonplace in the home. However, to truly look at the acceptability of yelling at kids, we must look at the scenarios when this most often occurs.

When Accidents Happen

The milk spills all over the counter and the mail you just sorted. The glitter drops on the floor and all over your new shoes. The kids run in from outside and track mud all over the floors you JUST mopped. We’ve all been there—accidents that test your last nerve. These are scenarios that are truly hard to control your reactions. They happen instantly without any warning and are sure to come at the most inopportune times.

When this happens, put yourself immediately into your child’s shoes. Look at them right in the eyes. Most of the time, they will be sad or scared.  They are likely worried about you being mad because of the mess or upset that they’ve lost whatever they were working on. Accidents are not intentional, so consider the heart of the child. Yelling at kids in this instance will just further break their hearts and make the accident much more traumatic than is necessary.

When Being Ignored

You’ve told them to move their shoes out from the hallway. You come back, and they’re still there.  You tell them again. This time you come back carrying an overflowing laundry basket and trip over the shoes still left in the hallway. Do you yell?

These situations, when you have to repeat yourself constantly, can send most of us very quickly into high stress and high emotion—making yelling a very instantaneous reaction. Whether it be from blatantly disrespecting and ignoring your requests or from the absent-mindedness of kids, either way it is hard to not let the anger boil over. These are times when a parent should consider the benefit of yelling. Will yelling make the kid want to actually do what was asked? Or will yelling make the child tune you out even more?

In most cases, yelling out of frustration at this point will not help with listening skills in the long-term. Count to five, and issue a consequence for their ignoring you and lack of obedience. Establish clear guidelines that if you have to repeat yourself when issuing directions or requests because of them not listening, there will be punishments or repercussions.

When They Yell First

“I hate you!” “You can’t tell me what to do!” “You are SO unfair!” Especially for parents of toddlers and teenagers, there are those moments when kids like to test their boundaries and will snap and yell at you first. Their words oftentimes pierce, as they always seem to know just the right nerves to rattle.

These are the times when we as parents must fight the instinctive reaction of yelling back louder to correct them. This is not the time for angry yelling, though, as that will just serve as fuel for the fire. It just becomes a contest of who yells the loudest or says the most hurtful comments at that point. Instead, use this as a learning opportunity that words do matter, even the tone of your words, and there will be consequences. Words spoken cannot be taken back, and it is in these situations that parents and children both need to think before speaking so as not to regret anything said in anger.

When Safety Is at Risk

The bike riding out into the street, the hand over the burner, the wandering away in the store—these are the times when yelling is both acceptable and necessary.  When safety is concerned, often a raised and emphatic voice is the only one that will grab the instant attention and responsiveness needed to save your child from danger. Something startling that will have an impact is what may be required. However, again, this should not be with anger—it should be with emphasis.

This is a good time to mention, though, that every child is unique. Some kids may respond to simply a “look.” Others may require a more drastic tone or action in order to learn their lesson. Disciplining a child is not an exact science and will differ for every one. If it takes yelling at the top of your lungs to stop your child from crossing the street without looking both ways, then yelling it must be. However, the child must know that the yelling comes from a level of importance, not an emotional or angry intent.

When You’ve Had a Bad Day

You didn’t sleep well, have had a stressful day at the office, got cut off in traffic, and burned dinner. To top if off, here comes your child into the room with teary eyes confessing that they just accidentally broke the music box that Grandma gave them for Christmas. Pause. Do you unload your entire day of bad events and lack of sleep onto their unintentional accident? Or do you recognize that this was just a clumsy mistake and has nothing to do with your bad day?

Chances are probably good that you have at some point unleashed your entire bad day onto your child or spouse or other undeserving recipient. This is only human, as we naturally need outlets in which to vent and unload our stress. However, it is not your child’s fault that you are tired and have had a bad day; and just like in the accidents section above, this is not the time to crush their spirits further with your yelling. Sit them down, tell them that you understand how it can be frustrating when accidents happen and sad when things break, and that tomorrow is a new and better day! (And take a bit of your own advice, as well!)

We all get it. Life is stressful. Parenting is exhausting. Kids’ energy levels are never-ending. Emotions run high. These are all factors that play into those moments when we find ourselves yelling at our kids. As parents, though, we must be diligent and cognizant of our actions at all times. Words do hurt, sometimes irreparably, and so we must use our words wisely to discipline, teach, and love our children.

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